Do you ever feel like adulting is out of your depth? Like life has become a checklist of items to tick-off until you finally feel like a proper adult who has it all together? The idea that we just need to ‘get through this week and then everything will be fine’ seems to carry on to the next week, and then the week after that, and before you know it just ‘getting through’ the week has turned into months of constantly being too busy to keep up. I don’t know about you, but feeling like this for such a long period makes me wonder - when is it that I will actually feel relief? When will I actually be content?
Will it be when I finally get that promotion? Will it be when I save up enough for a first-home deposit? When I find an exercise routine that I stick to? When I purchase my own health insurance, ambulance cover and RACV Roadside Assistance (without being prompted by Mum and Dad)? When I finally pay off the thousands of dollars of debt from my HECS/HELP loan? When I catch up on all of the episodes of my Netflix to-watch list, or finish the book that I started then abandoned months ago? Or maybe when I finally find ‘the one’, get married and have kids?
Despite the reputation of being lazy and entitled, it is actually millennials who have become the burnout generation. Burnout can happen when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. For me, the relentless pressure to keep up in multiple aspects of my life - work, social life, home life, online life - has left me feeling burnt out, and to be honest, pretty average at the whole adulting thing.
If you’re currently between 23 and 38, it’s likely that you are, or have felt, something pretty similar to burnout before.
What you might not have realised though, is that feeling burnt out doesn't actually mean you're bad at adulting. In fact, a number of external pressures over the years have made us feel like we should be striving constantly. There’s not something wrong with us for feeling this way. Our whole lives we’ve been told that if we just work a little bit harder, if we just give a little more effort, then finally we will be successful and happy - but, as it turns out, this is unrealistic.
So, try and forgive yourself a little – there are more than a few reasons why you might be feeling overwhelmed from the chaos of adulting:
The job market: in contrast to previous generations (some were actually paid to go to Uni), graduating with a piece of paper and thousands of dollars in student debt doesn’t actually guarantee us a job any more. People are staying in the workforce longer, meaning there’s less room for those of us trying to enter. It’s a competitive environment, and pretty uninspiring that we know it’s very unlikely we’ll be able to retire at 60. But we can’t let this de-motivate us; once we’re finally hired, we must work so hard to keep our position, because we all know there are plenty of others ready and raring to take it from us. We work longer hours to prove our value, enabled by the ‘anywhere, anytime’ accessibility of technology – responding to emails and working on our laptops happens far beyond office hours. Us females also have the added fear of trying to climb as far up the corporate ladder as we can before we settle down and have kids - even with all of the advances we’ve made in equality, there’s so much uncertainty about whether or not we will have the opportunity to grow our career post-kids - meaning we're more likely to try and win those promotions earlier on in our careers. It’s pretty overwhelming stuff.
The housing market: The pressure doesn’t stop when we leave the office. We’ve been criticised for spending too much money on our avo toast when we should be saving for our first-home, but in reality most of have been penny-pinching for years just to save up enough for a deposit. At my age, my parents had already been married for two years, bought their first home and were getting ready to purchase and move into their second. Whoa! The simple fact is that the housing market is expensive - it’s more expensive (yes, even relative to our wages) than it was 30 years ago. It’s not surprising at all that so many of us, myself included, are still living with our parents. Although it’s nothing to be ashamed of, our desire to be independent and have a place to call our own, in contrast to the reality of how long it will take us to get there, can be disheartening and another cause of stress in our lives.
Social media: With our phones an extension of our limbs, we’re surrounded by photos of our friends (or the celebs we follow) on social media living their seemingly perfect, carefree lives. We’re smart enough to know that the social feed is more of a highlight real than reality, but often that doesn’t stop us from comparing ourselves to what we see or shaming ourselves for not living up to the same standards. Typically, we aren’t seeing images of people slogging away at work in our feeds – instead we see impossibly toned bodies, perfectly-styled living spaces, harmonious relationships and envious getaways. We want to live this kind of life (how happy do they look?), so we try and make our own lives match - the problem is that there’s simply no break from this constant struggle to keep optimising every aspect of our lives. It’s totally unrealistic and an impossible game to win.
Expectations vs reality: The part that makes everything worse is that when we actually tick off these items that were meant to finally make us feel better, it doesn’t necessarily provide the relief we’re after. We might feel happy for a short while, but it’s not long before we replace these milestones with the next item we must tick off. I thought it was finally the start of my ‘real’ life when I landed a new job with more responsibility and reward - it felt like the stars had aligned and everything was coming together - but 12 months in I was already wondering when my next promotion would be. Realising that what we always believed would finally make us feel content, actually doesn’t, then brings with it a huge mental toll.
What makes all of this even harder is that there isn’t really any clear solution. The job market is rough, the housing market is rough, social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and reality is what it is. There will always be something to do, something more, something bigger and better to strive for.
What we can do is acknowledge the pressures we face, empathise with each other, and be kinder to ourselves for not always having it together.
So, rather than focusing on all of the things we have to do as adults, let’s be grateful for all that we get to do.
We’re old enough to drink wine (which is always helpful), we’re free enough to travel (even if it’s just a little weekend getaway down the road), we’re young enough to move our bodies and go for a walk in nature, and we’re wise enough to make sure to look after ourselves - to take some time out when we’re feeling like it’s all a bit much, to refocus and recharge.
Does this resonate with you? How does ‘adulting’ make you feel? Do you have any advice or wisdom you’d like to share? We'd love to hear in the comments below.